The White Princess by Philippa Gregory
I think it’s safe to say, I could live on a diet of Philippa Gregory books – from the number of them I have read and reviewed, I really hope she continues to produce books to such a high standard in the future. I have already heard rumours somewhere online that the BBC is already discussing making a new series focusing on the War of Roses novels by Mrs Gregory after the success of the first series The White Queen. I hope this was more than a rumour as the series was impeccable and very loyal to the books.
This book follows Elizabeth, the daughter of former Queen of England, Elizabeth Woodville, who had married Edward IV, one of three sons of York. At the end of the previous novel The Kingmaker’s Daughter‘ which focused on the events of Anne Neville’s life, Elizabeth is in love with and courting Richard III . From the eyes of Anne, distraught over the death of her son and seeing the love of her life slip away from her and into the arms of a young and beautiful woman, it is an unpleasant end to her rise to the throne and the end of her life. But Richard is slain at the battle of Bosworth while battling troops led by Henry Tudor, staking his own claim to the throne of England. Elizabeth and Henry Tudor are bound together by a betrothal made before Richard’s death and as Henry claims the throne, her mother rushes to ensure he will honour the promise of the betrothal to her daughter, a daughter of York, to finally unify the Houses of Lancaster and York and put an end to the Cousin’s War.
As she is a Princess, Elizabeth has been aware from a young age that it would be extremely unlikely for her to marry for love and instead, she would have to marry for the good of her family and to tie her to the throne. Although she is aware of her duty, she is distraught at the loss of Richard and wary of Henry; a man who has spent so little time in England but spent his life hidden away abroad, plotting to take the throne. The book follows the years of their marriage together – beginning so poorly with rape, hatred and her lingering love for Richard before progressing into an understanding and even love. But Pretenders continually rise and dispute Henry’s weakening claim to the throne; Pretenders claiming to be the lost sons of York and Henry becomes increasingly obsessed and paranoid with ensuring the ultimate destruction of these young men to the point of madness and Elizabeth’s loyalty is torn; between her husband and the children she bears him and the love of a boy claiming to be her lost brother.
As with all of the women in Gregory’s novels, as we see everything from her perspective, we endure everything alongside her; we feel her emotions and her struggles, we empathise with her and want the best for her all the way through the novel. Gregory’s ability to create such a closeness to a character is astounding; when Henry’s actions are despicable, I felt her emotions towards him and when she started to feel a degree of affection for him, I found myself sincerely hoping that despite such an unpleasant (to say the least) beginning, she would find some measure of happiness in her marriage. Few novels can compel my emotions in such a way but I found myself almost worrying about Elizabeth (a fictional character based on a factual woman) when I wasn’t reading about her and that, surely, is proof of how good Gregory’s novels are.
I would highly recommend this book and all of the others in the series – I don’t know if it is Gregory’s intention, but I have always personally felt stronger for the York women – I have always wanted them to succeed over the Lancastrian women, despite her books following the women on both sides. So suffice to say I felt a lot for Elizabeth. I have always admired that fact that these works of fiction based on fact have reflected Gregory’s own theories as what could have really happened in this time period and as the women in history are so rarely discussed in depth and are largely forgotten, I am glad that despite these novels being fictional, Gregory has given a voice to so many of the women who had a truly vital part to play in this period of history.